What does a great senior leader really look like?

I work with a lot of people in leadership roles and the same question always comes up:

What does a great senior leader really look like and what do I need to do to get there?

On the surface, there are lots of hard and soft skills that make up the ideal package. In addition to the obvious industry expertise, they usually include:

  • Strategic thinking and decision-making
  • Financial management capability
  • Operational know-how
  • Stand-out creativity
  • Inspirational team leadership
  • Excellent people management
  • Relationship building prowess
  • Networking expertise
  • And if you have business development responsibilities, sales mastery

When leaders consider this list and how to lift their game, there are two pitfalls that can steer them off course.

The first is believing they have to excel at absolutely everything on the list.

While this might feel true, the reality is that the idea of a faultless all-rounder is a myth. It doesn’t exist.  

No matter how good someone is or how dedicated they are, no one will ever be a master at everything, even with a tonne of extra hours, targeted training and considerable effort.

Many end up paying a serious price for trying to hit this impossible bar.

Whether it’s sustained levels of high stress, or a secret but persistent fear that they aren’t good enough, at best it hampers confidence, potential and front-line delivery, and at worst it can lead to deteriorating mental health.

The second pitfall involves trying to be more like a higher-ranking leader they know; usually someone who excels at the things they don’t.  

It can feel like common sense to consider what someone in a more senior position does brilliantly; particularly in the light of your weaknesses, and challenge yourself to be more like them.

After all, if that person has proven successful, their aptitudes must surely make up the requirements for a great senior leader?  

Not always.

Whilst someone else’s qualities and capabilities work for them, the fact is they are a different person, and what they are good at doesn’t necessarily have to be your forte or the talents you lead with.

People who focus the majority of their efforts on developing skills and abilities that aren’t natural to them and that don’t play to their own bench strengths usually end up courting frustration, stress and a sense of futility; not success.  

It’s also easy to end up in ‘compare and despair’ mode, which knocks confidence, blocks potential and hinders progress.

What these two pitfalls have in common is that they don’t focus on what makes a leader unique.

If they’re busy trying to be all things to everybody, or more like someone else, they aren’t tapping into the single biggest advantage they have; one that would help them become the very best senior leader they could be.

That advantage is their unique self.

What I mean here is an individual’s one-off combination of skills, talents and character, that when concentrated on and maximised, creates the greatest potential for impact and success.

This type of focus also requires a move that many feel uncomfortable with; acknowledging the areas they aren’t as strong in and empowering others who have those talents to contribute in those areas.

Many consider this idea with horror, imagining it to be a sign of weakness, but it actually communicates confidence and delivers three very powerful outcomes for the leaders who take this approach:

  1. Their self-confidence, motivation and engagement increase because they are focusing their energies, training and development on what they do best. Not only does this feel great but it develops mastery, which will always deliver the best possible results.
  1. They step into the realm of authentic leadership, building trusted relationships, respect and loyalty through self-awareness and honest and open communication.
  1. Their success stakes rise exponentially because they are drawing on the talents of others, ensuring everyone does a lot of what they do well, which generates the best shot at meeting and exceeding organisational goals and personal targets.
So ask yourself, what unique strengths, skills and personality traits should you be focusing on to fast-forward your development and take your leadership abilities to the next level?